What You Need to Know Before Taking a CPR Class

Not all CPR classes are created equal

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Instructor teaching CPR to class in fitness center
Instructor teaching CPR to class in fitness center. Getty Images/HeroImages

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is performed on people who have stopped breathing and do not have a pulse. It is vital in life-threatening situations like a drowning accident or cardiac arrest. The aim of CPR is to compress the chest and heart so that blood can be pumped to the brain, albeit weakly. Fast action is required. If CPR is not started within two minutes of a heart stopping, brain damage can develop rapidly.

In fact, 90 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest die before reaching a hospital. Starting effective CPR within two minutes can increase the chance of survival by 200 percent to 300 percent.

People who resist CPR training often do so because they think they don't have the time; others are simply put off by the thought of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The fact is that most CPR classes take only between one to three hours to complete and that the mouth-to-mouth is no longer considered a standard part of CPR.

With this in mind, here are some things you should know if planning on doing CPR training.

Class Levels

CPR is the shortest and most basic of all medical training classes. The classes are designed to their audience; the general public, for example, does not get the same training that paramedics d0. While the aims of training are relatively standardized, the actual course names may differ. Broadly speaking, the class levels are broken down as follows:

  • Adult CPR classes. The simplest form of CPR can be learned in less than an hour. It only covers basic techniques for adults, teens, and adolescents eight and older. This level is perfect for the workplace or home (particularly if you are caring for an elderly person at risk of cardiac arrest). If you have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED) at work or home, training for that can be added to the course.
  • Pediatric CPR classes. If you care for children under eight, this is the CPR class for you. The resuscitation techniques are far different than that used for adults and may include proper airway clearance and the chest compression ratio for infants, toddlers, and young children. If you coach or volunteer at a school, playground, or daycare, then you definitely need to learn infant and child CPR.
  • Basic life support for healthcare providers. Also called CPR for professional rescuers, these classes are required for all emergency medical personnel. This class covers AED, ventilation devices, barriers to performing rescue breathing, and two-person CPR techniques. If you're planning on entering the medical field, this level of training is a must.

    Finding Classes

    There are CPR training programs available at nearly all hospitals, ambulance services, fire departments, community health centers, and community colleges. However, just because CPR classes are available doesn't mean that they're the same.

    In most states, no single institution or agency accredits CPR classes. As such, any commercial organization or individual can provide training and issue a card or certificate saying that you are fully accredited.

    The problem with this is that most employers requiring CPR training will only accept accreditation from classes sanctioned by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or the National Safety Council. If uncertain, speak with your employer or union representative before enrolling in any CPR class.

    To find an accredited class near you, use the online locators provided by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or the National Safety Council. Many classes are conducted by non-profits free of charge.

    Questions to Ask

    When choosing a CPR class, ensure that it meets your specific needs, whether they be related to your job, children under your care, or specific medical conditions for which the risk of cardiac arrest is high. In some cases, classes may be tailored to cover your interests.

    In addition, do not hesitate to ask questions in advance of enrollment, especially if you have to pay. These may include:

    • Is there a test? Ideally, there should be, especially if you need a card or certificate for your employer. You also need to know what happens if you don't pass (and whether you get a free do-over or have to pay for another class).
    • How much of the class is hands-on? Ideally, most, if not all, of the class should be hands-on. There may be some video information (about statistics, laws, etc.) and take-home materials, but the point of the class is to learn by doing and not by watching.
    • Are your instructors certified? Be sure to ask by whom, and don't hesitate to ask for a copy of the certificate to check the date.
    • What instructional tool do you use? Even the most basic class should have an age-appropriate CPR dummy that allows you to perform chest compression. Some of the dummies will even beep or flash if you apply enough pressure. Other classes may have an AED or airway clearance dummy.

    While there are many online CPR courses, most of which will cost you $15 to $55, their lack of hands-on instruction and teaching devices may not provide you the level of confidence needed if faced with a life-threatening event.

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